Digital technologies critical in facing COVID-19 pandemic

Governments need to make full use of digital technologies to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and address a wide range of pandemic-related issues according to another new policy brief issued by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The pandemic is compelling governments and societies to turn toward digital technologies to respond to the crisis and, increasingly, is requiring governments to adopt an open government approach and to use digi­tal communication channels to provide reliable infor­mation on global and national COVID-19 developments.

With lockdowns and other social distancing measures in effect in many countries, and with more people relying on the internet for information and advice, gov­ernments are being urged to deploy effective digital technolo­gies to contain the outbreak.

According to the brief, a review of the national portals of the 193 United Nations Member States showed that by 25 March 2020, 57 per cent (110 countries) had posted some kind of information on COVID-19, while around 43 per cent (83 countries) had not.  But by 8 April 2020, around 86 per cent (167 countries) have included information and guidance about COVID-19 in their portals.

Government information has focused on information about the outbreak, travel restrictions, practical guidance on protection, and governmental response. Governments, as the first custodian of data re­lated to COVID-19, have also started publishing sta­tistics that include the total number of cases in a country, total fatalities, as well reporting of cases by jurisdictions.

Governments have also designed new apps and services to help in the fight against COVID-19, to facilitate services such as delivering food and other essential items to those most in need by optimizing the entire supply chain via digital government services. Some Member States re­corded an increase in the usage of online services such as digital ID and digital signature, due to the spikes in appli­cations for unemployment and other social benefits.

Some countries, balancing health imperatives and privacy concerns, have found that digital applications can help trace and test people who have come into contact with an infected person.

According to the policy brief, governments, often lacking the financial and human re­source capabilities to quickly and efficiently develop digi­tal tools that can support people during a crisis situation, should  build partnerships with private technology companies, social entrepreneurs or other national and in­ternational organizations to make use of existing technologies to meet the needs of people and soften the impact of the cri­sis on their lives.

“Policymakers should seize the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to establish tailor-made digital government tools, strategies and collaborations for the future,” the brief states. “The cri­sis has demonstrated that it is impossible for societies to ignore technological advancements as they are continuing to change business models and people’s everyday lives. Governments should embrace these policy- and techno­logical developments and harvest the digital opportuni­ties that can support the long-term sustainable develop­ment of their countries.”

Related information: UN DESA’s dedicated web portal for COVID-19

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